August 13, 2019

Here's How You Can Pull Off the 'Stranger Things' Black Vein Effect

Set the Mind Flayer loose on your characters with this sweet visual effect.

Stranger Things is chock full of awesome visual effects, from the hellish flower pedal face of the Demogorgon to the slobbering shapeshifter known as the Thrall.

Now, if you're a newbie who has your heart set on incorporating one of these badass monsters into your project, or at least something like it in quality and scale then...good luck to you, friend—may your mission, as daunting and treacherous at it seems, prove to be successful.

Or, or...you can try something that still has that Stranger Things badassery but is a hell of a lot easier, like, say, the black veins that indicate possession by the Big Mommy herself, the Mind Flayer.

In this tutorial, the team over at Cinecom show you how to do it step-by-step.

Okay, so you followed the tutorial to the letter, but it's still not looking as realistic or believable as you want it to.

No worries! There are some things you can do to sell the effect even more, many of which you can see at work in the original clip from Stranger Things.

Assuming that most of you who are wanting to try out this effect are not professional VFX artists, I think it's safe to say that concealing your work might be better than putting it on full display. So, how do you do that? Make it harder to see.

In the scene from Stranger Things, there are several elements that work to obscure Billy's black veins, so let's talk about four of them.

Framing

Who said a visual effect has to be shot in a close-up?

If you're not super confident in your skills as a VFX artist, you can always capture the effect in a medium shot, which will make it harder to make out the fine details of your composition. Which is good. Really good. Especially if you know your work isn't winning any beauty contests.

Now, can you always get away with not showing your effects in close-ups? No, not always. You run the risk of your audience missing the effect entirely, which would make all of your efforts pointless. 

How else can you obscure your effect?

Lighting/Color Correction

Low key lighting is your friend because it will help you reveal your effect just enough so it can be seen and appreciated by your audience while concealing its rougher details.

In the original, the lighting used in the shower is dim, therefore it renders Billy's affected arm in a dark shadow throughout the course of the effect. Now, you could light your scene like this, but that might force you to do a ton of tracking by hand in post, because it might be too dark for After Effects to pick up your tracking markers in any kind of accurate or consistent way.

Or, you could light your scene a little brighter, allowing you to get good exposure on your markers, and then once you're in post, you can bring down the brightness using color correction.

Either way, darkening the area that will have the effect might give you the forgiveness you need to sell it. 

Editing

The other technique used to sell this effect in the original clip is quick editing. Those black veins show up for three seconds max.; that is a long time in judging by today's editing standards. Again, that editing choice is designed to help better sell an effect, both of which were crafted by professionals.  

If you're a newbie, you can edit your effect clip down to one or two seconds, maybe right as it's beginning -- giving your audience just enough visual information to let them know, yeah, this dude's veins are turning black, and yeah, it's super weird and gross. The human brain is full of magical imaginative power and it will fill in the blanks and make that super short shot feel like it was longer.

Sound Effects

Now, you've used all of these extra techniques to sell your effect, but -- something's still off about the visuals. Well, maybe the problem isn't with the visuals...maybe it's aural.

What we see and what we hear are passionate, passionate lovers, you guys. They rarely go anywhere without each other, just like that one couple in high school who would sloppily make out in the hallways.

Adding some sound effects can help bolster your effect in ways you might've never thought possible. I mean, look at the original clip from Stranger Things — are veins supposed to make sounds? No -- or they shouldn't. I mean, they definitely shouldn't sound like two high schoolers sloppily making out in a hallway, but hey, that's exactly the sound they make in the show.

Conclusion

If you're a noob, these techniques will you help hide the fact that you're not a superstar at VFX. If you are a friggin' superstar at VFX, right on! Go do the damn thing, Queen!

Let us know down in the comments if you use any of these techniques, or any others, to make your work look more badass.     

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